It’s easy to drift. Life is hectic for all of us and if we’re not intentional about our direction in life we can easily wake up one day and wonder how we got where we are.
A common complaint I hear from people, men in particular, is regret over not having done something in their life that they had always wanted or planned to do. It wasn’t their intention not to do it, but they also weren’t intentional enough to make sure it happened.
Being able to stay focused on a goal or direction despite all of life’s curveballs is a necessity for success. It’s the people who develop the skill of staying focused no matter what’s happening in their life who are successful. Less successful people have the tendency to allow the distractions of life to take them off course.
One of the main reasons this happens is because our minds can easily drift away from the present and off into the past or out into the future. Yet because it’s only by what we do today that we’re able to change our tomorrow that preventing this mind trap is so important. Unfortunately, our minds often tend to drift back into the past or off into the future when today is uncomfortable.
A couple of people that I am counseling give good examples of what this loss of present focus can look like. Beth’s divorce was finalized almost 3 years ago, but she still thinks about her ex-husband every day. Sometimes it’s an old photo or song that triggers her to go back in her mind, but other times it’s things she’s still holding on to. For instance, he had this negative label he used to use to describe her and she still has that in her head as a definition of who she is. So whenever she struggles at something today she brings up this negative label from the past.
Chuck is unhappy in his marriage. One reason he feels this way is because he doesn’t find his wife attractive (I won’t get into all of the reasons here, but it’s complicated why he feels this way). So Chuck fantasizes about what it would be like if he was with what he calls a “hot babe.” Whenever he sees an attractive woman he thinks about what it would be like if he was married to her.
Which direction does your focus go – backward, forward, or present? Here are 3 keys to staying focused:
1. Don’t Look Back.
While it’s helpful for us to learn from our mistakes, it’s important that we don’t spend more time in the past than is necessary to learn those lessons. A good distinction to note is whether our purpose for thinking about the past is to learn from it, or to escape back to it and live in it in our minds.
2. Don’t Live in the Future.
Okay, obviously if we have to look forward or we won’t know where we’re going. And some looking forward is necessary to set goals and develop plans to meet them. However, living in the future is a whole other thing. Again, a key distinction is our purpose for thinking about the future. If we’re thinking about the future to escape today that’s a red flag.
3. Stay in the Present.
Living in today doesn’t mean we don’t look back or forward, but we don’t do it to the point that it robs us of today and we don’t do it to escape today. We have to continue to remind ourselves that the only way tomorrow will be better is if we stay focused on the present.
There are times for all of us when staying focused in the present can be difficult. However, to be successful in life and to get to where we ultimately want to go, we all need to consistently practice these 3 keys to staying focused.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.